Friday, July 17, 2009

X-Men Primer - Part 6

1992 was a good year for the comic book industry and kids animation. By complete coincidence, both Batman and the X-Men were at the height of their popularity. While the X-Men's popularity was due to sixteen years of consistently strong writing and characterization, Batman's popularity was largely due to two extremely popular movies starring Michael Keaton and directed by Tim Burton. Of course, they also both have very strong core concepts.

In this year, they both released a children's show. X-Men appeared Saturday mornings while Batman was on in the afternoon. They were both unique, in their way. Although X-Men appears stiff and awkward by today's standards, at the time it was relatively sophisticated. Like the comics, X-Men cartoons loosely followed their own continuity and constructed long, slow-building story arcs. And I'm a sucker for long, slow-building story arcs.

The cartoons were enough to get me to check out the comics, which had far better art and writing than the cartoons. A friend of my older sister's owned the local comic book store and gave me my first three comics. They were the hottest comics of the time, all Marvel: Ghost Rider #15, Spider-Man #1, and X-Men #1. I really like Ghost Rider for a while, but then the comics started getting more and more aimless so I stopped reading it. Spider-Man #1 had the frenetic artwork of Todd McFarlane, which never really caught my interest. But X-Men? I must have read that issue a dozen times. I copied Jim Lee's artwork and gave them to friends.

X-Men #1 was the beginning of a huge shift in the X-Men comics where all previous teams merged bringing endless storytelling possibilities. All of the original X-Men (formerly X-Factor) were there along with the "All-New, All-Different" set and a few of the newer characters like Rogue, Gambit, Psylocke, and Jubilee. The multitude of spin-off titles and crossovers folded into one another and characters were reworked for the benefit of artists who had little respect or understanding for what came before. It was a chaotic time, and honestly, there was probably more bad than good. So understand that what I bring you is a relatively cohesive and highly personalized sampling of the era.

Blue and Gold Teams

In order to distinguish between X-Men and Uncanny X-Men, the X-Men were separated in Blue and Gold teams. The new title, featuring the art of Jim Lee, would highlight the Blue team consisting of Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast, Gambit, Psylocke, Rogue, and Jubilee. Uncanny would feature the Gold team consisting of Storm, Jean Grey (currently without a codename), Colossus, Archangel, Iceman, Forge, and the far less impressive artwork of Whilce Portacio.

This is a fairly standard idiotic practice in comics. Create a spin-off of a popular title, move all of your best talent and characters from the popular title to the spin-off, and get a lot of money in the short term by destroying a previously good comic and alienating the established fan base.

Mutant Genesis

With Chris Claremont's departure, he left three scripts behind: the first three scripts for the new X-Men title. The story highlights the new team as they go through their standard Danger Room initiation sequence. Where Wolverine was once the wildcard, Psylocke and Gambit have taken his place.

Meanwhile, Magneto has sequestered himself on his newly redesigned Asteroid-M base (from waaay back in X-Men [Vol. 1] #5). Here he is approached by two factions: the first, Russian cosmonauts launching an assault to hold Magneto responsible for sinking the submarine Leningrad, and the second, mutants hiding among them and claiming to be Magneto's "Acolytes." Their leader is Fabian Cortez, a mutant with the ability to enhance the powers of other mutants. It is he who convinces Magneto to turn his base into a mutant sanctuary.

In order to protect them from the human threat, Magneto raises the Leningrad from the ocean floor and removes its nuclear arsenal. Naturally, the X-Men try to persuade him not to. For the most part, they treat Magneto not as their recent ally, but as their long-time enemy. Only Rogue gives him the benefit of the doubt and for her trouble is shot down over the ocean. When she awakes, she is in the newly reformed Genosha (now vaguely resembling post-Apartheid South Africa) as the Acolytes launch a major offensive. The X-Men show up to stop them, but it is Magneto who stops it, announcing that the attack was unapproved by him.

However, soon Magneto learns that his good behavior may have been motivated by some genetic tinkering by Moira MacTaggert when he was in her care. Magneto declares Asteroid-M a safe haven for mutants, but the nations of Earth see it more as a stockpile of weapons orbiting overhead. In response, the X-Men go to talk with Magneto while the Soviets send another nuclear missile. Magneto raises a shield to protect them, but the opportunistic Cortez chooses that moment to return the power he lent Magneto. In the chaos, Magneto "dies" a martyr, saving his people and the X-Men from the atomic blast. In his stead, Fabian Cortez takes over the Acolytes.


Over in the Less-Interesting X-Men, the story begins with a Sentinel attack on the X-Men's old Australian base, now populated by the Reavers. Only Donald Pierce survives the attack by running to Gateway and telling him to send him to the one responsible for the attack. Meanwhile, the X-Men are meeting with the Hellfire Club (in the manner of strained diplomacy that they must often use with their enemies) when they are attacked by a green-haired Prince knock-off by the name of Trevor Fitzroy.

(This period is rife with characters who had powers and costumes, but no codenames. I'm guessing they mostly just had trouble thinking of something new and clever by that point. I mean, we already got to the point where Psylocke, Gambit, and Jubilee are legitimate superhero names. What next?! Oh, right...)

In quick order, Fitzroy's future technosuit kills several of Emma Frost's Hellions before Gateway's portal opens and Donald Pierce steps out, assuming Emma Frost to be the one responsible for his attack. Unfortunately, the Sentinels follow him through the portal, killing the rest of the Hellions, and leaving Jean and Emma in a coma. Fitzroy leaves with Frost while the X-Men take Jean home.

After taking Jean's body to Professor X, he tracks her consciousness to Emma's body which leads the X-Men to Trevor Fitzroy's hidden base. Faced with an X-Men invasion, Fitzroy uses his mutant powers to summon other criminals to help him. In the process, he accidentally brings across the man who put him in prison, the mutant police officer known as Bishop. Together with his fellow officers, Malcolm and Randall, Bishop tracked the other criminals from his time and executed them.

Killing was very cool in the '90s. In fact, it was so cool that Malcolm and Randall were killed a short time later just to fit in.

Eventually, we learn that Bishop is from the dystopian world of Days of Future Past, long after the days of the X-Men. In fact, Bishop considers them to be legends and at first doubts that they are who they claim to be. Things become even more complicated when he announces that there is a traitor in the X-Men responsible for bringing about the apocalypse. Since Gambit was the only one he had seen in the future, Bishop assumes that its him.


Technically, X-Force began before these storylines, but I refuse to give Rob Liefeld and Fabian Nicieza top billing. This featured the reformed New Mutants in their new, more EXTREME attitudes. They used guns, swords, claws, and explosions to take down the MLF (Mutant Liberation Front), who more than likely got their name from the PLF (Palestinian Liberation Front). The heavy reliance on action in this series took priority over little things like character development, so I really don't have much to say.

The one thing X-Force has going for it is the name. There are only so many variations on the X name and "X-Force" tells you exactly what you will be getting: X-Men, but more violent. However, this impression is usually the premise as well, so it's easy to screw up.

The All-New, All-Different X-Factor

Meanwhile, in another X-Men spin-off, with the original X-Men back home, X-Factor needed an entirely new cast and direction. It was decided that they would fill the role left by Freedom Force as a more legitimate, government-sponsored mutant task force. Serving as the team's government liaison would be Valerie Cooper, the woman responsible for Freedom Force, Storm loosing her powers, and probably quite a few other colossal screw-ups. The team would be led by Havok and include Polaris, Wolfsbane, Multiple Man, Quicksilver, and Lila Cheney's bodyguard, Guido, who called himself Strong Guy. (This was a tongue-in-cheek reference to the contemporary trend of every superhero team having a "strong guy.")

The series was written by Peter David who did a fantastic job. David (affectionately referred to by his fans by his initials: PAD) delivered both strong characterization and humor to characters who had previously lacked both. Havok was shown to have a massive inferiority complex due to his older brother, Scott, being the ideal X-Man and leader. Polaris was struggling with a history of mental abuse and control by everyone from Magneto and Erik the Red to Malice and the Shadow King. The resident practical joker, Jaime "Multiple Man" Madrox was ironically revealed to be a jokester because he was afraid of being alone.

The biggest drawback to the series, I'm sorry to say, is the art of Larry Stroman who was almost universally panned. Although its clear that Stroman is trying hard, his art never seems to be appropriately realistic or stylistic to portray the advantages of either approach. Instead, it's stuck somewhere in between which, to paraphrase the Bard, equates to a lot of sound and fury signifying nothing.

Late in his run, David was accompanied by then-artist and now-EIC Joe Quesada. His first assignment was on X-Factor #87 entitled "X-aminations" which featured the team having a mandatory psychological evaluation. The episode is still fondly remembered by fans for the way it succinctly demonstrated the motivations of the characters and caused the readers to re-evaluate their preconceptions.

Take a look at the images to see what I mean. I'll wait.

Weapon X

In ongoing Marvel anthology book Marvel Comics Presents, Wolverine was featured in solo adventures which rarely became an important part of continuity. The rare exception was the "Weapon X" story written and drawn by Barry Windsor-Smith. Using the name Wolverine was given in his first appearance in Incredible Hulk #180, this story hinted at the previously hidden past of Wolverine.

Here it was revealed that Wolverine's adamantium bones were implanted in his body by the mysterious and nefarious Weapon X project in order to create advanced assassins. Logan was chosen for the process because his healing factor would enable him to survive where others wouldn't. In addition to the adamantium bonding process, Logan was outfitted with a VR helmut and conditioned by relentless training programs designed to tear his mind down and build it back up. This ultimately, resulted in an even more angry, dehumanized, and dangerous Logan who lashed out, destroying the complex before vanishing into the Canadian wilderness.

The present day comics soon picked up on this popular plot line and the Wolverine ongoing series often became a search for Wolverine to find out who he is. This led to a long running debate over whether or not the mystery made him more interesting. Slowly, we are given more details about Weapon X when it is revealed that Wolverine was part of a covert wetworks team known as Team X. Amongst others, the team included Sabretooth and Deadpool.

Omega Red

Logan's history came back to haunt him after a spirited game of mutant basketball ends with a night on the town, but as soon as they are off school grounds, they are assaulted by the guild of ninjas known as the Hand led by the Soviet super-soldier gone wrong, Omega Red.

With a set of prehensile tentacles and a powerful death-pheromone, Omega Red was designed as the perfect opponent to Wolverine. Following the collapse of the Soviet Union, Omega Red was revived from cryogenic stasis by Matsuo, the same man who turned Psylocke Asian. Wolverine and Psylocke were taken hostage, but rescued by a joint operation of the X-Men and Wolverine's old Team X buddy Christopher North, AKA Maverick.

This storyline also introduced the long running romance between Gambit and Rogue. Although I can't say it ever did much for me, I know comic geek girls who were in love with Gambit. It was an incredibly popular storyline for young women and will likely be again.

As you can see in the image, Rogue was initially resistant to Gambit's charms. After having Longshot and Magneto as her previous love interests, Gambit didn't exactly represent something stable and secure. But, of course, most of the drama centered around Rogue's inability to touch and Gambit's love of touching women.

The Thieves Guild

Back in X-Men, Gambit receives a blast from the past when he is visited by his wife, Belladonna. We come to learn that Remy and Bella were both royalty from the New Orleans underworld with Remy the prince of the Thieves Guild and Bella the princess of the Assassins Guild. In order to resolve a dispute, the two were married. In a plot ripped straight from Romeo & Juliet, without the poignant ending, Bella's brother picked a fight with Remy, who won by accidentally killing him. In disgrace, Remy was forced to run away.

The X-Men follow Belladonna to New Orleans where they find the guild infiltrated by the alien Brood. Together with Ghost Rider (I told you he was popular), they manage to defeat the Brood, but in the process, Belladonna is killed.

Over in the other X-Men, Forge is becoming increasingly frustrated by the lack of attention he's getting from Storm who has thrown herself into her X-Men work with a type of dedication usually reserved for Cyclops. When Forge proposes, it leads to a big fight. Afterward, Forge asks Jean if Ororo really loves him, to which Jean responds, "It... it's not my place to say," which more or less answers his question.

When Ororo returns, Forge announces that he is leaving to take care of the now insane Mystique, figuring that at least she has some use for him. (Why is she insane? I'm not sure. It probably has something to do with Destiny dying.) Before leaving, Forge accuses Ororo for throwing herself into her work in order to run away from her past. For all her godly posturing, she is still an abandoned child deep down. Ironically, if Forge had just shut up, Ororo would have accepted his proposal.

The Return of Longshot

In a simple story near and dear to me, we find out about the fate of Longshot and Dazzler when the X-Men are once more drawn into the deadly media sphere of the Mojoverse. The story follows a twisted version of The Wizard of Oz with Longshot in the role of Dorothy and the X-Men playing the rest of the characters. Naturally, the X-Men fight their way out of it, but Longshot and Dazzler stay there to free others from enslavement in the Mojoverse...

... either that or they weren't popular enough to keep around.

I believe this is the last story that featured the artwork of Jim Lee. This preceded the "Image Exodus" where Marvel's top artists left the company together to form their own company and, in the process, all became millionaires. Lee was replaced by Andy Kubert, who did an admirable job, but no one could really replace him. He was the industry's most sought after artist at the time.

As for writing, most people place the blame for the decline in quality writing at the feet of X-Men writer Scott Lobdell, but for my money, the Lobdell's work was pretty decent. It was Uncanny X-Men and X-Force writer Fabian Nicieza who was responsible for the most nonsensical action, uninspired storylines, and poor characterization.

X-Cutioner's Song

I spent a lot of time trying to decide how or even if I can explain this crossover. You should know the drill by now. A convoluted "epic" plot forces all of the X-teams to work together... blah, blah, blah, explosions, tits, guns, blah. This might actually be the worst X-Men event ever. The fact that their best artists quit shortly before it is just the nail in the coffin.

It starts with the virtual assassination of Professor X, who is infected by the techno-organic virus carried on a bullet shot by someone impersonating Cable. Not knowing who really pulled the trigger, the X-Men get all of the other X-groups together and they go door-to-door interrogating all of their major villains and generally picking fights. Eventually, this retarded method works because they find out that the perpetrator was none other than Cable's identical archnemesis Stryfe.

This story is worth mentioning for two reasons. One, it reveals that either Cable or Stryfe (it's Cable) is actually Scott and Maddie's son Christopher who was sent into the future by Mother Askani... who is actually Rachel "Phoenix" Summers of Excalibur, daughter of Scott and Jean from a future timeline that may or may not happen, only grown-up. To me, Cable always symbolized the epitome of X-Men continuity problems as his origin has all of the problems of a soap opera, an Alabama family tree, a convoluted time travel plot, and a mindless action film all in one! Consequently, I pretty much hate Cable.

But more importantly, this storyline featured Stryfe releasing a modified version of the techno-organic virus known as the "legacy virus." Meant to parallel the AIDs epidemic (which was still relatively new), the legacy virus was first believed to only attack mutants (first removing their powers, then their life), but eventually spread to humans as well. This storyline defined much of the X-Men in the nineties and furthered the mutant metaphor to embrace homosexuality... if only on a thematic level and not so much a literal one.

The Return of the Acolytes

Shortly there after, human/mutant tensions continue to grow when the Acolytes, now led by Fabian Cortez, attack a school bus. I'm not sure what their point was other than to show that they are evil terrorists. Considering that any one of those kids might be a mutant, you'd think they would restrict their attacks to adults.

As a side note, I always hated the Acolytes. They were exactly like the Brotherhood of Mutants, but less interesting. They have stupid black and yellow uniforms, wear needlessly bulky communications devices and shoulder pads, and none of them has a decent codename or motivation. Few of them even have decent powers. And the word "acolyte" has all sorts of awkward religious connotations.

Anyway, being kiddie-killers doesn't help their reputation with the X-Men and soon the Acolytes are facing a major counterattack. In the process, we are introduced to the Acolyte Amelia Vogt, a teleporter and former lover of Xavier who left due to his single-minded dedication to his first class of X-Men. During the fight, Fabian Cortez's treachery is revealed and he flees from the Acolytes in disgrace.


Back in the other X-Men title, Psylocke is getting increasingly... naughty. In a plot that had been building for a while, Betsy had been flirting with Scott by placing her ample assets in his face. Now, Scott may be the most repressed man alive, but no heterosexual man in existence could endure the temptations of Psylocke without drooling a bit. And considering that both his wife and would-be mistress are telepaths, it isn't like he can hide what he feels anyway.

Yet when Betsy finally kisses him, Scott freaks and leaves, passing his wife in the hallway. Jean and Betsy have the inevitable psychic conflict, but it is interrupted by a third woman wearing Psylocke's old armor who reveals herself to be classic Caucasian Betsy!

Caucasian Betsy claims that Asian Betsy is an impostor named Kwannon placed there by Matsuo. In a move that makes it clear which one will end up staying, Caucasian Betsy calls herself Revanche to avoid confusion and make it clear that she is really pissed off, I guess. Together, Revanche, Psylocke, and the rest of the X-Men track down Matsuo for an explanation. In time, it is revealed the Matsuo, Spiral, and the Mandarin had merged the two women in mind, body, and soul creating two beings who were as similar as they were different. But inevitably, it was decided that Kwannon's body was more Betsy and Betsy's body was more Kwannon because comic fans love hot ninja chicks.

Later, Kwannon returned, blindfolded, with her artificial Mojo-eyes plucked out and revealed that she had contracted the legacy virus. Not wanting to die a slow death, she asks Matsuo to kill her, thus restoring the new status quo.

I really liked Kwannon for some reason. I think the idea of a blind, white, ninja telepath is a cool idea, or maybe I just hated that Psylocke's back story was so convoluted. The problem with so many of these stories that were supposed to "tie up loose ends" is that they usually just ended up making things more complicated. That's what happens when you try to form a logical basis for an irrational decision. Just look at the church.

A Death in the Family

Kwannon was hardly the first victim of the legacy virus. That dubious honor belongs to Colossus' sister, the former New Mutant, Illyana "Magik" Rasputin. Still a young pre-teen after the events of Inferno, Illyana spends her last days in the Xavier Mansion attended by Jubilee and Kitty Pryde while Xavier and Moira desperately work to find a cure, knowing that the chances are astronomical. By the time Piotr gets back from his mission, it is too late and he never had the opportunity to say goodbye.

Guide to the X-Mansion

On a more light-hearted note, the nineties were a big time for technical details. I have no idea why, but people wanted to know how fictional shit worked even though it doesn't. Star Trek came out with a few technical manuals written by some very smart and very nerdy people who were able to put more science into Star Trek than the writers ever did.

Similarly, Marvel came out with The Guide to the X-Mansion which featured a blueprint of the mansion (including sub-basement, Danger Room, Cerebro, and a war room), a layout of the school grounds, designs for their personal Blackbird jet, a map of subterranean Morlock tunnels, and generally more information than one would ever need.

I always really liked this kind of bonus material as it served to make the comic seem more real. I no longer had a vague recollection of where things were, but I could follow the characters in their environment through my mind's eye. Unfortunately, the writers rarely conformed to this design, so it works more in theory than practice. Interestingly, when I bought the X-Men expansion for Quake, the game used a design identical to the one in this book.

Fatal Attractions

Following quickly on the heels of the last major event, Fatal Attractions features the return of Magneto who (it is revealed) survived the destruction of Asteroid-M due to the sacrifice of one of his Acolytes. Magneto crashes the funeral of Illyana where he chides the X-Men for not taking a more aggressive stance against the threat of the legacy virus.

Forming a new asteroid base which he calls Avalon, Magneto once more invites his Acolytes along with any mutant who will join him in peace. Surprisingly, Colossus leaves the X-Men to join the Acolytes, no longer able to believe in Xavier's dream.

In response to the mounting threat, the UN and SHIELD create a network using the Earth's satellite array designed to prevent Magneto from returning to Earth. In response, Magneto shows them exactly how powerful he really is by directly attacking the grid. This creates a massive electro-magnetic pulse resulting in unusual weather activity and a world-wide blackout.

Due to their superior Shi'ar technology along with the genius of Beast and Forge, the X-Men are the first to regain power. Together, they launch a counter offensive, temporarily recruiting Quicksilver to help them, and directly led by Xavier himself. As they approach the asteroid, the newly recruited Colossus disables the security system allowing them to enter undetected.

This (of course) leads to a massive battle between the X-Men and Magneto. Enraged by an attack from Wolverine, Magneto flexes his mutant muscle and rips the adamantium straight from Logan's body through his pores. Needless to say, the experience is excruciating and leaves Logan on the brink of death. In response, Xavier unleashes the full fury of his mental prowess, wiping Magneto's mind, and leaving him a vegetable. As the X-Men return to Earth, Colossus becomes Magneto's caretaker, believing it to be his penance for helping the X-Men's attack.

Back at home, Logan is rushed into intensive care where he recuperates. With his healing factor pushed to the limit, he is weaker than ever, but before long it is revealed that Logan is missing his adamantium, but not his claws, which were now made of bone.

Side note: This was almost universally panned as a bad decision. Peter David takes credit for this one, but only as a guilty admission. Apparently at the staff meeting, David blurted out, "Why doesn't Magneto just pull out his damn skeleton?" At which point, he couldn't put the genie back in the bottle. In retrospect, this idea wasn't too bad. Wolverine was pretty much invincible at that point, in addition to being overexposed, so this let writers really put him through the ringer. Still, I don't think anyone expected it to last as long as it did. Many future X-Men stories involved teasing the return of adamantium then disappointing fans all over again.

Over in X-Factor, the team had discovered that they were the government's Plan A for the "mutant problem" when they discovered Plan B was Project: Wideawake, the government's Sentinel program. In response, Val Cooper was removed as X-Factor's government liaison and replaced with Forge.


Shortly after came yet another crossover, this one between the X-Men and the Avengers. "Bloodties" was set up as a direct sequel to the events of Fatal Attractions. The story centers around Exodus, a knight from the 12th century who was an early mutant discovered by Apocalypse and frozen in suspended animation... for reasons...

I think...

Anyway, Magneto found him and revived him. Unlike Cortez, Exodus is truly loyal to Magneto's cause, even choosing his name to symbolize their plight. With the rest of the Acolytes, Exodus ignites a civil war in Genosha between humans and mutants, but considering that he has both the X-Men and Avengers going after them, this attempt was pretty much doomed from the start.

Soon after, Sabretooth shows up at the X-Men looking for a little telepathic assistance that he calls "the glow." Apparently his regular telepath had recently died and without regular treatments, his psychotic tendencies and artificial memories were torturing him. The X-Men agree to take him in, as they do, with Xavier believing he can cure Victor of his psychopathic behavior. Others have their doubts...

The Wedding of Scott Summers & Jean Grey

To me, the highlight of nineties X-Men was the long awaited wedding of Scott Summers and Jean Grey. Finally, in X-Men #30, it happened. Usually in comic books (particularly period comic books) every issue is said to require an action scene, so usually when there is a wedding comic, someone is bound to crash it. Thankfully, that didn't happen here and this ended up being a story about a large and unusual extended family getting together for a happy occasion.

This is an excellent issue, properly focusing on characterization. The story doesn't just effect Scott and Jean, but Xavier as surrogate father, Logan as he is still having trouble with Jean being the one who got away, and the rest of the X-Men as they reflect upon their respective love lives.

Following the wedding, Scott and Jean were abducted on their honeymoon where they lived virtual lives far in the future. Here they raised a young Nathan Christopher, the man who would be Cable. I never read this, but then I never much cared for all things Cable.

Elsewhen, an accident in their medlab awakens Emma Frost from her coma, but in the body of Iceman... ironically enough. This leads to a great escape by Emma Frost where we see her use his powers in ways he never before imagined. In the end, of course, everyone ends up in their appropriate bodies. Although it was one of the biggest violations Bobby had ever experienced, he learned a valuable lesson... that he wasn't using his abilities to their full potential.

On the road, Nightcrawler, Rogue, and Graydon Creed (leader of the anti-mutant hate group "The Friends of Humanity") confront their wayward mother, Mystique. Graydon Creed was born a human of two mutants: Mystique and Sabretooth. Considering his parents, its not surprising that he thinks mutants evil. Graydon tells Kurt what had been hinted thirteen years before... that Mystique is his mother. Disguising himself as Creed, Kurt forces a confession out of Mystique who admits that when he was born, Raven was seducing a German lord. Kurt's birth blew her cover and she had to flea from anger villagers. When push came to shove, she sacrificed her son as a decoy then used her powers to blend into the crowd.

Sadly, this relationship has not, to my knowledge, developed an inkling since.

Phalanx Covenant

In Uncanny X-Men #311, we see the first appearance of the Phalanx as they are hunting down close X-Men friend, Yukio, who apparently has a vaguely unspoken bad history with Gambit. Although, by this point, who doesn't? Gambit's ill-defined bad boy status was constantly reinforced although he never really did anything bad.

The Phalanx were created from the ashes of Warlock, the New Mutant, when his techno-organic virus was taken by Cameron Hodge back in "X-Tinction Agenda." Hodge apparently got together with other racists like Stephen Lang (the guy who inadvertently helped make Jean Grey the Phoenix way back when) and decided that the best way to defeat those inhuman monsters was to become inhuman monsters. They used this technology to turn themselves into a sort of Sentinel who was shapeshifting, nearly indestructible, could interface with technology, and can assimilate all lifeforms other than mutant (convenient!).

Personally, I think this was inspired by Star Trek: The Next Generation's Borg, only with more of a visual threat typical of the medium. The fact that "resistance is futile" and everything "will be assimilated" lends credence to that observation.

This led directly to the most recent crossover spectacular entitled "The Phalanx Covenant" where a premeditated sneak attack by the Phalanx eliminates most of the X-Men. In the X-Men titles, Banshee is one of the few who survives long enough to discover that the Phalanx has targeted Xavier's files for his next class of mutants. Together with Emma Frost, Jubilee, and a restrained Sabretooth, the three of them fight their way through the Phalanx to find the rest of the young mutants, four of whom are being held already. Led by the brilliant, beautiful, and super-strong mutant who calls herself M, they escape just as Banshee and his crew are mounting a rescue. The entire adventure leads to a showdown between the Phalanx and a young mutant named Clarice Ferguson. In order to let the others escape, Clarice uses her mutant power to blink other dimensional portals into existence, thereby trapping herself and presumably dying in another universe.

As a curious side note, there was a campaign or possibly a movement to bring back this little seen character who was written with the express purpose of dying. In my opinion, this was due to the artwork of Joe Madureira who made her look like a mysterious, purple elven princess. Eventually, she did come back in a Marvel Comics equivalent of the TV show Sliders, but no one much cared.

X-Force, X-Factor, and Excalibur teamed up in another storyline entitled "Life Signs" which saw the return of both Warlock and Doug Ramsey in their amalgamated form as Douglock. Through logic that defies all reason, they explain that he was brought back to life by their attempts to recreate the technology. After liberating him from the others, he would soon join Excalibur. Meanwhile, Scott and Jean (just returned from the future) join up with Wolverine and Cable in their own titles to rescue the other X-Men.

But for the most part, this storyline was created just to create buzz for the latest X-Men spin-off...

Generation X

Ironically, by the time the term "Generation X" was coined, they had already grown up, but I always enjoyed the name anyway. This series took place at the Massachusetts Academy, formerly housing Emma Frost's Hellions, but now an official extension of the Xavier School. For their headmasters, Banshee and Emma Frost were chosen... Banshee, presumably, for his experience and professionalism while Emma was chosen for her teaching experience.

Jubilee was the first to be recruited. Like Kitty Pryde before her, this was against her will. Unlike Kitty Pryde, however, the decision stood. She was joined by Monet "M" St. Croix (whose only flaw one could find was arrogance), Everett "Synch" Thomas (who could copy the powers of any mutant near him), Paige "Husk" Guthrie (capable of ripping off her skin and generating new forms underneath), Jonothan "Chamber" Starsmore (whose energy projection power had destroyed a good portion of his own body), and Angelo "Skin" Espinoza (who possesses six feet of extra, prehensile skin).

While I never really got into this title, it had a lot going for it. Unlike New Mutants, the characters were unique and complex. Most of their powers were rooted in fear, pain, or embarrassment, which served well the metaphor of teenage life.

However, the greatest strength of this book was, by far, the art by Chris Bachalo. Generation X features Bachalo at the top of his game, right after his Death mini-series with Neil Gaiman and Shade the Changing Man with Peter Milligan. In someways the opposite of X-Factor's Larry Stroman, Bachalo incorporated both frenetic action and subtle characterization that truly helped distinguish the team.

In fact, the strength of Bachalo can, in some ways, be seen as the death of the title. Too many of the characters were dependent on an artist of his caliber and even his sensibilities. The chaotic punk looks of Chamber or his mutant eating stalker, Emplate, were designed to suit Bachalo's style. Under other artists, the result was... less than interesting.

My personal favorite GenXer came late to the group. Her name was Penance. Her skin was razor sharp and gem strong, but due to her mutation and poor socialization, she was unable to talk. It was kind of like Wolverine meets Nell. Unfortunately, Penance became mangled in X-Men continuity problems when it was revealed that she was really M and M was really... two other girls. But I think this is one of those ideas where most fans and writers like to stick their fingers in their ears and pretend it never happened.

This is just one of the many things I'm glossing over with respect for your sanity.

Back in the adult world, Warren and Betsy started bonding about being rich, beautiful, and having their mind and body transformed by an evil agenda. This seems to be as good a basis for a stable relationship as anything.

Back in the mansion, Xavier is having dreams of Magneto as they discuss, once again, their divergent philosophies. At one point, Magneto asks Xavier if he believes his dream would have come true if Magneto wasn't there to stop him. Xavier insists that its a moot point. All that matters is the where they go from here. It is then that Magneto turns into his son, David "Legion" Haller, who tells him that that's where he is mistaken.

Over in X-Factor, the team catches Mystique trying to kill David in his coma before he suddenly awakens. Needless to say, David makes quick work of them and goes on his way to make his father's dream come true.

Legion Quest

The X-Men gather in Israel where they have tracked Legion's incredible psychic power building. They come to discover his plan to travel back in time to when Xavier, Magneto, and his mother all met years ago. There he would kill Magneto thus ensuring that his father's dream come true.

Naturally, the X-Men have to stop him... for reasons (respect for all life, maintaining the timeline, etc.)... and Storm, Bishop, Iceman, and Psylocke go back to stop him. Meanwhile in the present, Lilandra and the Shi'ar show up to tell everyone that a crystalline wave is spreading out from the M'Kraan Crystal and covering the universe. Presumably, this is due to Legion messing with the timeline, but lord knows how that works.

Over in Wolverine #90, Logan babysits Sabretooth at the X-Mansion to make sure he doesn't escape. To provide context, he watches a news report about a serial killer on death row and the ethics of his execution. Logan is of the opinion that a diseased brain sometimes just needs to be put down. Fortunately, Sabretooth escapes, otherwise this would be a very different comic. A fight breaks out and Logan pops his claws on either side of Sabretooth's head before putting the middle one through his brain. In Israel, Rogue has a different way of celebrating the end of the world... by finally kissing Gambit.

Back in the past, Legion confronts Erik Lensherr (the pre-Magneto) leading to a big fight between them, Xavier, and the time-displaced X-Men. Forming a psychic knife much like Psylocke's (though presumably much more powerful), Legion goes to kill Erik, but his own father leaps in the way and gets killed instead. Having committed pre-conception fratricide, Legion immediately ceases to exist and all of the X-Men (except for Bishop, who is already time-displaced) disappear. Erik clutches his dying friend in his arms and promises to bring his dream to life... while far away, the god-like mutant Apocalypse is woken from his centuries long slumber by the incredible conflict of mutant energies.

Back in the present day, we find a much different world, commonly referred to as...

The Age of Apocalypse

In this mother of all events, we are introduced to an alternate reality where Apocalypse has taken over the world and Magneto leads the X-Men. All of the titles had an appropriate name change to demonstrate how crazy this alternate reality was.
  • Uncanny X-Men became Astonishing X-Men
  • X-Men became Amazing X-Men
  • Excalibur became X-Calibre
  • X-Force became Gambit & the X-Ternals
  • Generation X became Generation Next
  • Wolverine became Weapon X
  • X-Factor became Factor X
  • Cable became X-Man
  • X-Men Unlimited became X-Men Chronicles
And book-ending the event were X-Men Alpha and X-Men Omega to tie all of the events together.

All in all, I really enjoyed this series. I, like many my age, experience occasional bouts of post-apocalyptophilia... although this is a bit more like mid-apocalyptic. The story is set in the present day when Magneto's band of freedom fighting (and considerably more violent) X-Men encounter Bishop, who blames the state of the world on Magneto. Rogue, now married to Magneto and mother to his son Charles, touches Bishop and immediately sees the world that could have been and inevitably will be again. To this end, Magneto prepares for an ultimate counter-offensive to Apocalypse's empire.

The flagship title was Astonishing X-Men featuring Rogue, Sunfire, Morph, Sabretooth and his... uh... boy on a leash, Wild Child. [There is nothing dirty about that. Nope. Not one blessed thing.] A late edition (due to popular demand) was Blink who, in this reality, was a protege of Sabretooth, much as Kitty and Jubilee were proteges of Wolverine. However, the standout character, in my opinion, was Morph. Although his character was based on the positively ancient X-Men character Changeling, his name and personality was largely inspired by a character created in X-Men: The Animated Series who died in the first few episodes.

The series featured the team traveling to the Cullings, where the genocide of genetic inferiors takes place, to help evacuate the human population. Despite the dark content, this title features the off-beat humor of Morph and some great characterization, particularly between Sabretooth and Blink.

In Amazing X-Men, we see a different team of X-Men consisting of Quicksilver, Storm, Dazzler, Banshee, Iceman, and Exodus who are sent to Maine to help with the human evacuation of Europe. In an interesting twist, the humans use Sentinels to guard them against Apocalypse's attacks. Meanwhile, at Xavier old mansion, Apocalypse and his forces make a sneak attack while the other teams are away, capturing both Magneto and Bishop. Upon returning, the X-Men decide that they can't rescue Magneto because Bishop is their more important ally at the moment. After defeating the Shadow King, they gear up for a final showdown with Apocalypse.

In X-Calibre, Magneto sends Nightcrawler to find his mother, Mystique, and through her, the mutant known as Destiny to confirm that the world he saw in Bishop's head was not just the raving thoughts of a mad man. Of course, they get attacked by some of Apocalypse's henchmen and Mystique dies, but Nightcrawler makes it back with Destiny so this one goes down as a win.

In Gambit & the X-Ternals, Magneto sends Gambit and his rag-tag band of Merry Men (consisting of Jubilee, Guido, Lila Cheney, and Sunspot) to the far end of the galaxy to recover the M'Kraan Crystal so that they can navigate the dimensional divide. This puts them face to face with the mad emperor D'Ken and his Imperial Guard. The team doesn't fair well, and Guido steals the crystal for Apocalypse at the last moment.

In Generation Next, we see a very different version of the team led by Colossus and a bleach blonde Kitty Pryde wielding Wolverine claws. Apparently, the only one in this universe to benefit from the change in reality (other than those who survived) was Chamber, whose energy had been funneled through a mechanical device. In any case, this team of junior recruits is sent to save Illyana Rasputin (whose time travel powers were crucial to their plan) from the strangely mutated slave driver known as the Sugar Man. Although the death counts in all titles were unusually high, there was something particularly sad about watching children sacrificed for the greater good.

In Weapon X, we are introduced to a one-handed Logan (going by the titular moniker) and his old lady, Jean, who hadn't found a good codename in this universe either. The two are invited to a meeting with the Human High Council, the last human resistance movement led by Moira MacTaggert, Emma Frost (labotomized), Mariko Yashida, and Brian "Captain Britain" Braddock. After hearing their plan for a US nuclear strike, Logan and Jean argue, Logan carries on the mission alone, and Jean goes to the US to help evacuate the innocent bystanders.

Like its original title, Factor X is the most morally jaded, featuring Cyclops, Havok, and Beast in the service of Mr. Sinister who is a Horseman of Apocalypse. The story mainly follows the sibling rivalry between Cyclops and Havok. Cyclops is questioning the validity of Apocalypse's empire while Havok is trying to prove himself superior to his higher ranking brother. Beast, on the other hand, is a vile Dr. Moreau who genetically tortures people, more out of curiosity and sadism than genuine research. It is only when Jean Grey is on his lab table that Cyclops leads a rebellion out of the Pens.

In X-Man, since this universe has no future, the AoA equivalent of Cable is Nate Grey, an experiment of Mr. Sinister's created by mixing the DNA of Cyclops and Jean Grey. However, his creation escaped with the help of Forge, Sauron, Brute, Toad, and Mastermind who raised him as part of their theater troupe. This troupe is soon decimated by an attack from Domino, Caliban, Grizzly, and other agents of Apocalypse. Even after that attack, Nate finds Forge's dying body at the feat of his creator, Mr. Sinister. Sinister goes on to explain that Nate was created as his weapon against Apocalypse to ensure that Sinister is not betrayed by him. Like his other dimensional father, Nate decides to show him how powerful he really is by ripping Sinister to pieces.

Finally, the remaining titles, X-Men Chronicles and X-Universe, told the history of this alternate universe X-Men as well as the adventures of the men and woman who would be heroes in the normal universe.

The crossover comes to a close in X-Men Omega as the X-Men, Nate Grey, Weapon X, and the nuclear assault fleet all arrive at Apocalypse's headquarters. While Apocalypse and his son, Holocaust, are beating the crap out of Magneto, his X-Men are recovering the M'Kraan Crystal. The highlight of the battle is when Nate arrives to bale out Magneto and the two choose their targets. Nate fights Holocaust to a stand still before shoving a piece of the M'Kraan Crystal into his body. Similarly, Beast and Sugar Man find their way into the crystal while Bishop, Illyana, and Destiny travel back in time to stop Legion. Magneto takes on Apocalypse one-on-one before ultimately tearing him straight down the middle. Magneto and Rogue take a moment to enjoy their victory as the bombs start to fall, but by that point, Bishop forces Legion's psychic knife into his own body. Bishop's energy redirection powers show Legion the world that would have been before killing them both and restoring the status quo.


We go back to the normal universe and see how things have changed. We have some good stuff coming, followed by some bad stuff, and the disappointing return of Chris Claremont as we make our way to the new millennium.


Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5

Part 7
Part 8 (coming soon)

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